A full house enjoyed a mesmerising performance by Nigel Kennedy and his talented Quartet, delivering some wonderful adaptations of the Gershwin songbook among others as part of the Rye Jazz & Blues Festival last weekend.
Football is never far away from Nigel Kennedy’s persona and while the crowd were in for some colourful examples (of a claret and blue variety) later on, the pre-match build up to this flagship event resembled a high stakes match for sure.
Kennedy arrived later on stage than billed yet there was no sense of impatience, purely excitement and chatter.
It takes a level of confidence, not arrogance, to come on and introduce your band before you even strike a note, but Kennedy did this naturally that it instinctively felt right. He started by performing Bach’s Sonata for Solo Violin, which is a stirring and emotive piece despite the pauses and the crowd attempting to applaud sooner. It lasted 18 minutes before they got their chance to reward him.
Kennedy recalled that it was Yehudi Menuhin, the legendary violinist and mentor, who introduced him to Bach and he acknowledged how fortunate he was to have received the learning. He limbers up most mornings with “a couple of hours of Bach to get used to the violin under my chops”. He went on to reveal the order of play and introduced the next piece as “one by my second favourite composer, Nigel Kennedy!”
The band played The Magician of Lublin with a derivation to Jewish-Folk music noticeable, which Kennedy eluded to before they started. This was the first opportunity for his ensemble – featuring two acoustic guitarists, double bassist and cellist – to show their musicianship, and was a pleasure to hear.
We began to appreciate and then marvel at the musicianship and connection between them. Kennedy sensed the atmosphere lifting and began a march across the stage, stamping his foot to the rhythm, almost like a musical matador enticing the picadors and toreadors to engage in the fight.
His deployment of the bow on the strings was so rich in diversity that he could alter the sound and the mood at will.
Approaching the end of the first set, rather than take a break, Kennedy sensed the crowd’s excitement and asked: “Shall we play one of the Gershwin pieces before the interval?.” Everyone cheered and there was time for another quip before the audience was sent off for a well earned break.
The second half began and Kennedy lead out his ‘team’ who were all wearing Aston Villa replica shirts, probably not through choice. He let out a “come on you lions!” before sitting down at the Piano. Kennedy was drawn to music as a child, sitting under the piano listening to his mother play Fats Waller tunes and I suppose it’s inevitable then that he would be adept on this instrument too.
This section was classy; each Gershwin song was arranged so you could appreciate the brilliance of his composition, but then crafted to deviate into frenetic jazz scales. It had been rehearsed to a degree that the band could flick between them in a heartbeat. First up was They Can’t Take That Away From Me and we saw them all completely immersed. It was debatable who was enjoying it more: those on or off the stage.
There was an elderly man next to me in the upper tier who was thumping his walking stick to the rhythm and grinning, unable to resist.
You could tell Kennedy and his band were overwhelmed with the reaction, which allowed him to pull some of the broken strings from his bow and raise a laugh, with some in-keeping banter.
There was time to hear The Man I Love before they finished and you sensed the crowd would stay all night, given half a chance. The band moved to the front of the stage for a bow, and Kennedy delivered his trademark fist-bump to all corners to a standing ovation from the crowd.
A good weekend overall for Nigel Kennedy and a match-winning performance at the De La Warr Pavilion...and from his ‘lions’ in the championship play-off final to boot!
The Rye Jazz & Blues Festival continues during the summer, visit ryejazz.com to find out more.